Yes, you do.
I know that you think you’re all independent-minded and free-thinking and open to new evidence and all that. Don’t you?
But you’re not.
At most, during your lifetime, your views will only modify a little bit. Switch from Democrats to Republicans? Whoop-di-doo. Become more free-market, then less so? Like those mites that live on your eyelids, this move is too small to see without a microscope.
I know you still don’t believe me. You’re thinking, this guy’s full of shit. And while you’re reading this you’re going to have a mental debate with me, thinking you’ll win.
Okay, ready? Climb aboard the Real World Express! Toot-toot! No hanging your arms out the side or you’ll lose them and have to eke out a living doing gay amputee porn.
Let’s start with a few questions about your existing beliefs. Please play along. No sneaky skipping forward. If you jump ahead, I will know. And I will be very disappointed in you.
What religion are you? Most of you said some sort of Christian, probably Protestant or Catholic, a few non-denominational, and a large minority said atheist or non-religious. I don’t think there’d be many others but I am frequently surprised. As for Muslims, if any of them come here I might as well draw a dotted line on my neck.
On the topic of religion, what do you think those with different beliefs?
Keep those answers in you head as we continue.
Do you support a major or minor political party in your country? Does it lean conservative, progressive, or is it moderate? If not, where approximately do your beliefs lie?
Do you support slavery and/or serfdom? How about genocide? Any strong opinions about rape? Human sacrifice? Invasion and colonization? Also please bring to mind your views on cannibalism, identical twins and monogamy. Take your time, don’t just go with the first thing that pops into your head.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Now let’s go back over each of these areas and consider just how independent your views really are.
It goes without saying that if you had been born in South America in 1400, you would not be a Christian. But let’s take this further: had you been born a Saudi today you would almost certainly be a Muslim. If you were born in Japan you would probably say you have ‘no religion’ but actually pray at temples and shrines on traditional occasions. And so on. 80% of you belong to the religion of your ancestors. Around 10% of converts will have converted to a similar religion, most likely a monotheistic one. None of you believe in the Aztec, Norse or Greek gods. Do you?
As for your views on those with different beliefs: in Medieval Europe, pretty much everyone agreed most enthusiastically that heretics ought to be burned. Do you think that? If not, do you imagine that if you’d been born back then you’d be the sole guy protesting against it, or at least looking on with disapproving consternation? Just you, and no one else? If so, that would make you a pretty unique person. Let’s see if you get even more unique.
Did any of you say you were a card-carrying communist? No? That’s funny, because if you’d were anti-communist in the Soviet Union circa 1960 that would make you quite unusual, even if you were quiet about it. Not at all unheard of, but certainly rare. And you do think you’re a rare one.
Did you say you were a Nazi? No? Hmm, around 1936 quite a lot of Germans supported the Nazis. No doubt if you were around then you would have been a member of the underground opposition. Just like you would have been against the Commies in the USSR. All of you. Goodness I get a lot of unique visitors here at the People’s Blog.
Any monarchists? Not constitutional monarchists, I mean the full monty – powers bestowed by God and all that. Not many, hey? But back again the Middle Ages pretty much everyone was, and you no doubt think you would have been, yet again, the exception.
This is my favourite one.
For most of history and in most places (especially once agriculture had taken hold), slavery and serfdom were the norm. Indian America, China, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia . . . pretty much everywhere. And the funny thing is, most people thought nothing of it.
Hang on, you say! We awesome white people abolished it out in our societies! Well yes we did, and let’s give ourselves a pat on the back and a quick tug, but please remember that no one thought there was anything inherently wrong with slavery until a small minority started going on about it in Europe and North America in the 1700s. Actually I think Rabelais may have mentioned it so perhaps we may go back to the 1600s. Before that, diddly-squat.
For a while in late Rome it was a form of virtue-signaling to grant manumission to loyal slaves, but there seemed to be no overall philosophy opposing slavery as an institution. And in other times and places – nothing. Not a peep in China. Nothing in the Arab world until the Euros got on to it. And in Africa – well, it still happens now.
So perhaps you’re thinking that if you’d been alive back then, you’d have been against it. My dear little snowflake! You wouldn’t have molested your Roman slave-girls. You wouldn’t have enriched your farm with captured enemies. You wouldn’t have built great monuments in the jungle with captive labour. Oh, no.
No doubt my reader is not thinking that at all. He’s already on to my fairly transparent trick so he’s changed strategy – he’s dreaming up a new defense! Fine. We’ll come to it. But in the meantime let me continue my fun, though I’ll speed it up a bit.
Genocide was quite normal in ancient times. Read the Bible if you don’t believe me. Conquered people were slaughtered or enslaved, or a bit of both, as a matter of course. So you would have been the only one telling your king, oi, don’t do that. Genocide’s bad, mmkay? And while we’re at it, you would have been the only one protesting against mass rape of captured populations, too.
Let’s race though the rest. You would have opposed invasion and colonization, even though it was normal at all times, from New Zealand to the Great Plains. You would have been the only Aztec to take a knee against human sacrifice, the only Papua New Guinean to start a Twitter hashtag campaign against cannibalism, the only Ibo to put on a badge that says ‘Twin Lives Matter’, and the only medieval Arab to say, one wife ought to be enough for anyone.
You know the answer to all these annoying questions is ‘no’, so you’ve gone on to this: I am different because I’m worldlier and more educated. Had those primitive people shared my advantages maybe they would indeed have spoken out against those things.
But we must differentiate here between ‘education’ and ‘indoctrination’. I deliberately left out factual beliefs such as the shape of the world and the existence of microorganisms because it is quite natural that such knowledge progresses over time, and changes in human views here show us nothing interesting about ourselves.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that our current, Western world view is a result of moral progress and enlightenment. Morality always feels right, and if it has recently changed it feels like it just changed for the better, but moral rules are always twisting around, randomly mutating and sometimes succeeding in enabling a group to thrive. There will be different morals in the future that you will abhor – you have already seen some of then in utero – and those future people will call it ‘progress’. Present shibboleths will eventually be discarded.
If you were born in the future you would be socialized into holding those future beliefs just as surely as if you’d been born in ancient Mongolia or in modern-day Qatar.
At most, your views will only shift a little from those that are normal in your own time and place. A quirk here, a modification there, but mostly you’ll inherit the entire culture, swallow it whole, and never even notice you’ve done it, let alone burp.
Because that would be rude.